When I was fourteen years old, I remember begging my mum to take me to the GP and then, on arrival, fearfully requesting that she wait outside. Mum’s face contorted in surprise; we’re supposed to be an open door family. She gives me a look, which in English roughly translates to “Just you wait until we get home” but, in the end, acquiesces to my demand. Reluctantly but with far less remonstration than I had anticipated. I shoot mum one last furtive glance – she’s uncomfortable, clearly, but stationary. Feeling somewhat proud of myself for having successfully chiselled out a square inch of independence, I puff out my chest and step into Doctor T’s office, feeling manlier than manly.
The façade crumbles as soon as the door clicks shut and GP T asks what he can do for me? Suddenly I feel every inch the little boy again - perhaps it wouldn’t have been so bad to bring mummy in. I’m embarrassed, you see. More embarrassed than I’ve ever been – but you have to be a big boy I tell myself. So, I pour out my heart to Doctor T and the more I do, the more I’m convinced that I should have brought mum with me. I’m looking at this man right, yet rather than indulging in my panic at this world-ending thing that I’m divulging to him, he seems to be doing his utmost to hold back a gale of giggles. Why is he smiling? I hardly slept a wink last night – I’m thinking to myself.
With mammoth effort my fifty-two-year-old infant of a doctor clears his throat and agrees to examine me. He can see that I’m sincere and my earnestness lends him a dose of seriousness. I recline and pull up my top, obligatorily squirming as he leans in to cop a feel. Doctor T fumbles around for a few moments, trying his best to act his age – but let’s be honest, the tell-tale smile is now a full-on grin. I’m a little uncomfortable at this point but lucid enough to still be angry. How dare you? This is proper serious stuff man! I definitely should have brought mum with me; she’d slap the mirth out of you, I think to myself.
Doctor T whips off the latex, crinkling it into a ball before launching it the whole sixteen feet across the room and into the gaping bin. My, very easily impressed, fourteen year old self couldn’t help but think how much more (apparently) suited for the NBA my doctor was than for his actual trade. I sit and listen to the verdict, my face crumbling first into relief and then into mortification. Blushing has always been biologically impossible for me but my god did I blush that day. GP T asks me if there’s anything else he can help me with, I thank him for his service and tell him he’s done more than enough for today. I leave the office, a bit deflated now –feeling more like Black Pidgeon than Black Panther.
"...being wrong and a little bit embarrassed is a whole lot better than being dead."
The first thing that greets me is my mum, who to her massive credit is still stationary, though she’s definitely crept a few rows closer to the office door than before – or maybe that was just my embarrassment playing a trick on me. We’ll never truly know. Back to our vehicle we go, and I’m still doing my best to stare a hole into the floor whilst dexterously floating like a butterfly to evade the barrage of questions being flung like a couple hundred bees in my direction. I hold out for a little while but the more I do, the more concerned I can see my mum growing. She thinks I’m hiding something life-threatening from her and in the space of about a minute I get everything from the birds and bees convo to the Theresa May style “if you don’t tell me, I’ll send you back to where you came from”, (anyone know that one?).
“What happened between the doctor and me stays between the doctor and me”, is what I want to say but I’m African so no such luxury is afforded to me. And, in all fairness mum now looks like she’s about to cry and that is every little boy’s worst nightmare so I give in and let her into the secret. Why I thought that was a good idea, I’ll never know. Mum looks at me, blinks as if she’s trying to make sure that I’m real. At long last… she shakes her head, puts the car into reverse, complains about how much fuel I’ve wasted, kisses her teeth and then o’er the fields we go, laughing all the way (well… one of us is laughing, the other one not so much).
Turns out I didn’t have breast cancer, just a touch of gynecomastia (look it up, it's real I promise). Anyway, I learnt some very valuable lessons that day. Lesson A: I would book my own hospital appointments from now on, thank you very much; and lesson B: Doctor Google is a self-fulfilling prophecy, go looking for a problem and you are sure to find a way to find it. Perhaps the final most useful lesson I learnt that day though was lesson C: being wrong and a little bit embarrassed is a whole lot better than being dead.
I tend to lean on the hyperbolic side but even if you condense that final point, you’ll find a very valuable lesson. What I’m trying to say is that, when it comes to our health, both physical and psychological, even a minor concern shouldn’t be swept under the rug. That said, the internet is a largely unregulated mess. Don’t always take Doctor Google at his word no matter how well intentioned he seems, and especially if you’re a little lacking in sleep. Visit your actual doctor, who is trained professional, and afford them the chance to laugh at you - if needs be.
Marshall is a self-taught student of psychology, hugely interested in diasporic politics and contending with the question of how we can all best function within an increasingly polarised society.
Disclaimer: All views expressed in this piece belong solely to the author and do not reflect the views of Demographica Limited as a company.